Dr Aoife Kelly
Research Officer, Alzheimer’s Society
Dementia is sexist. This devastating condition disproportionately affects more women than men, with women with dementia outnumbering men two to one.
Women are, statistically, more likely to live longer than men and, unfortunately, the risk of dementia increases with age. But dementia is caused by diseases of the brain, not age alone, so what is it that makes women more vulnerable to dementia?
The truth is we don’t fully know. One of the main theories rests with the female hormone, oestrogen.
Oestrogen’s effects on dementia:
Oestrogen affects the development of the brain and, at the recent AAIC conference, was linked to women having better verbal memory than men at all ages (even in people with mild cognitive impairment). Women’s better verbal memory may be masking early symptoms of dementia, leading to under-diagnosis and lost opportunities for early intervention.
During the menopause, women stop producing as much oestrogen, which results in a loss of the hormone’s influence on blood pressure and cognition. This may explain why hypertension has been shown to be more likely to increase a woman’s risk of dementia than a man’s, despite hypertension being more common in men of the same age.
Lack of funding is slowing progress:
Our researchers are on the case, investigating the role of blood pressure in dementia and striving to improve all aspects of diagnosis, care and potential treatment. But we need more funding to continue this work. There hasn’t been a new drug for dementia in 15 years, so it’s important to keep research at the forefront of the agenda and make sure that upcoming treatments work for everyone.